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UFC Auckland, The Morning After: Paul Felder’s glorious failure

Here’s what you may have missed from last night!

For the second time in three weeks, I don’t quite agree with the judges’ decision in a UFC main event. Awarding Dan Hooker the split-decision nod was not a bad or egregious call, merely the result of an ultra close fight. Just because it was not a “robbery,” however, does not mean the decision doesn’t have significant consequences. It is a severe outcome for Paul Felder, who unwrapped one of his gloves after the fight and spoke about his potential retirement.

It’s easy to understand why this defeat is perhaps too bitter a pill for “The Irish Dragon.”

Felder is not a fighter many have ever pegged as a future champion. He did not grow up tackling bears in an elite wrestling hub that produces many of the world’s most deadly combat sports athletes. He didn’t achieve All-American wrestler status in college; he earned an acting degree. Felder is not a former professional kickboxer, just a tough Philadelphia kid who walked into a Karate school in his early teens. Hell, Felder didn’t even compete in his first professional fight until the age of 26, a late start by modern UFC standards.

And yet, Felder made it extraordinarily far, and he did so in the sport’s absolute toughest division. “The Irish Dragon” climbed into title contention by forcing his way through more athletic and more decorated opponents. He did so with grit and toughness, a work ethic that allowed him to win close fights.

This bout with Hooker was Felder’s big opportunity and a hard-earned one at that. Against a younger and longer opponent with more consistent knockout power, Felder was given his chance. Once again the underdog, Felder very clearly did everything within his humanly powers, fought well enough to win in the eyes of the majority ... and then lost.

That was Paul Felder at his best, working with a nutritionist and living in a tiny apartment to focus himself entirely on training. That was Paul Felder pushing himself to the limit of his abilities, improving himself constantly in the gym, and putting forth his absolute best effort once in the cage. Felder walked to the cage in unbelievable physical shape with an expert coach behind him and smart strategy.

It wasn’t enough. Felder lost a split-decision. He isn’t going to become UFC Lightweight champion of the world. As a result, Felder might be done for good.

That harshness is very inline with the beauty of the sport. Felder was not the hometown favorite, but every member of the audience in Auckland sympathized and respected “The Irish Dragon” for his clearly Herculean effort. Dreams thrive and die each weekend in the Octagon, from the curtain-jerking bout to the main event yet even so, it’s rare that we see a fighter so visibly put every ounce of his being into a fight.

Why is Felder seemingly ready to give up on the sport? At 35 years of age, this is his peak. It’s not as simple as trying again next time. Maintaining this maximum effort — which is required for him to even have a chance at this highest tier of Lightweight competition — is brutally challenging. Each future camp of endless hard work increases the odds that Felder injuries himself by pushing too much.

If Felder chooses to walk away, he at least does so after a glorious moment. Many claim to have done everything possible, but almost none live up to their assertion. Anyone who watched “The Irish Dragon” compete last night can say with absolute certainty that Felder is the exception, the man who really could not have taken a single step further.

For complete UFC Fight Night 168: “Felder vs. Hooker” results and play-by-play, click HERE!

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